Thursday, August 12, 2010

Panel Eyes Ways to Collect Bail Bucks in Philadelphia

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Members of a state Senate panel yesterday heard a host of ideas to improve the city's bail-collection system - including using private bondsmen to chase after the money, and providing alternatives to cash bail.

About $1 billion in bail is owed to the city, and 47,000 bench warrants are outstanding for fugitives who failed to come to court.

Common Pleas President Judge Pamela Pryor Dembe yesterday told the Judiciary Committee at a public hearing in Center City that the $1 billion figure is "mythical" because it is, for the most part, uncollectible.

She testified that the Clerk of Quarter Sessions office - which before April operated independently from the courts - failed to aggressively pursue bail collection.

Most of the money is uncollectible because the defendants have died, the clerk's office did not keep accurate records of addresses or the statute of limitations to collect the debt has passed.

The oldest bail debt was determined to date from 1943.

When asked by state Sen. Michael Stack, D-Northeast Philadelphia, how much of the $1 billion could be collected if the court system had all the resources it needed, Dave Wasson, chief deputy court administrator, estimated 2 to 3 percent, or $20 million to $30 million.

Dembe, Jodi Lobel, chief of the district attorney's charging unit, and Stuart Schuman, chief of the Municipal Court unit in the public defenders' office, told the senators that they did not think it would be a good idea to have private bail bondsmen operating extensively in the city again.

Dembe said the city had moved away from that system because of "corruption [and] physical abuse."

Brian J. Frank, president of Lexington National Insurance Corp., the only insurance company now underwriting bail bonds in criminal cases after the city placed high barriers to do such business here, testified that the business is different today from the 1960s - when corruption was the norm.

Read more here and follow us on Twitter!

No comments: